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Open Courses at MIT 161

An anonymous submitter was the first to point out this New York Times article - MIT is planning a major project to put most of its coursework up on the Web over the next ten years. The article is a little short on details - probably because there aren't many yet - but there's an MIT factsheet that has some more information.
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Open Courses at MIT

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  • NCSU undertook a pilot project to get 25 courses on the web by 2000. They succeeded but got mixed results.

    Someone has to keep up the web pages. Ultimately, the professor is responsible for the content. Many professors didn't want the extra work. One math professor did an excellent job. I thoroughly enjoyed his course. After this pilot, only a few courses are still offered on the internet there, including the ones taught by this professor.

    You have to show up for the exam.

    There's a trend toward online books with passwords. This trend should be resisted. The online books are inconvenient, password protected and you'll have no reference book when the course is over.

    Many colleges trumpet their internet courses but doing the necessary work required for a CSC degree online is usually not an option.

  • Well I would disagree, Yes there are many things that you can learn by buying the book and reading it. But in many fields advanced studies require more than just buying a book and reading it. I will tell you that in many fields of endevor (and not just the sciences) that learning under an older and more experienced teacher can not be done without.

    If nothing else a Proffesor will be able to guide your reading. A textbook can sound very authentic and correct and yet be totaly *WRONG*.
  • I don't think that is MIT's objective. I think it is in part to work with other universities around the world to develop new course work. When I went to univesity (Brandeis) the Computer Science undergrad courses were very much based on MIT's classes. The Same no, but they did use some of the same text books etc. If someone is trying to develop a class at some university they will be able to look at MIT's stuff online and use it as a place to start. This could be very helpfull to someone.
  • Your loss than. There were classes I took in school where the class itself was a total waste of time yes, there were also some in which if I did not go to class I would have not learned nearly as much.

    And if the only reason that you are there is to get a piece of paper then you are waisting a good deal of money. There is a lot that you realy do need a good teacher for.

    I'm hopeing in the fall to start studing the Talmud with my Rabbi, not something to take on without someone who knows what they are doing.
  • And Yours appears to be to assume that just because you did not need to attend lecture that the Profs had nothing to teach you. Now its true I have no idea where you went to school so I don't know. Maybe where you were this is true. When I was in school (Brandies) at least in Physics there is no way I could have done at all well without the profs. Now maybe where I went to school is harder than where you went, or you are smarter than I.

    And ofcourse maybe you had a run of bad teachers I've had more than my share of them myself. And to be truthfull a University education should be about more than getting a good job when you get out. Take a lit course or history or something.
  • This has already been done by (at least) the university I attended several years ago. During my last year at school, the web was just starting to catch on (1996) with "regular folk", and the professors were putting up all of the course material on the web. Granted there was no "Click here for education" button on the main university web site, but it was all there if you spent the time to click through department->professor->course information and notes.

    Now the fact that it is MIT that is doing it (read: making it public knowledge) is cool, but its certainly nothing more than "we're a very prestiegeous university so...".

    my two cents...


  • Regarding "cheating" by studying old exams...

    I had a professor (at the University of Wisconsin - Madison) who would give us past exams to study for. He claimed that he always included some questions from past exams on his current exams, so studying these past exams was to our benefit. He also claimed that despite this "early warning," the grades on the exams still followed a typical bell curve, with a few doing very well, most doing ok and a few doing extremely poorly.

    The semester that I had this class, the two exams were composed entirely(!) (not partially) of questions from previous exams. Nonetheless, the performance curve still matched the curves from previous semesters. The professor claimed that it indicated that no matter what, a healthy percentage of students were too lazy to study, and those few who did study the past exams, as instructed, deserved their higher scores.

    Anyway, my point is that it's not cheating or in any way unethical to study the material being tested, as long as it's with the instructor's ok. Since exams don't really measure much of value anyway, I'm not too concerned that having previous exams available makes it easier for people with at least half a brain to score well. (Those people usually score better anyway.)

  • I think you may be a bit to cynical about this.

    • The exams in a class are related to what you are expected to learn in the class. Seeing what the exams cover should mirror what you are learning in the class anyway.
    • I don't think it's an unreasonable amount of effort to keep it up to date. It would actually be less effort and waste than mass photocopying for people that won't use the items anyway.
    • You should be able to expect an up to date copy of course materials from professors. They are professionals that are responsible for distributing information and knowledge.
    • There are computers available for use by all students, they are called computer labs. Also, this is meant to supplement existing materials, for people that wouldn't have access to it at all.

    This is more like advertising or a free preview of what you would receive if you were a student at MIT, not a replacement for a degree.

  • You're trolling, obviously. As an MIT grad, I can assure you they have a strong humanities program (8 humanities courses are required to graduate). I graduated with a music major.

    In terms of CS students doing CS from day one - only if they choose to. In fact, you don't even choose your major until Sophomore year - freshman are doing the basic courses (physics, calculus, chemistry, etc), and getting a feel for what they want to go into.

    In terms of uniformity of students, well, yes, they are uniformly smart enough to get in. Other than that, they come from around the world, all cultures, all income levels, all (you name it).

    Most valuable about the MIT education was learning to solve problems, and getting direct info from some of the best folks doing research in the fields (of course, some were good teachers, some weren't). You can't beat getting the latest & greatest info from the person doing the research in the labs there (I took courses from people who literally wrote the textbooks, and they gave more info, because the textbook was out-of-date by the time it was published).
  • It's a great thing that MIT's doing, but a few observations:

    • Does this mean that MIT's moving away from Project Athena?

      Athena (which brought us X Window by the way) was to be an academic-version of what became the WWW before there was a WWW.

      Folks could log in from anywhere, use a standard environment and take advantage of flexible tools to interact with their faculty & classmates, perform online coursework, use computer-aided-learning exercises like simulations and of course access do general computerey things like word-process etc. Are the materials & systems developed to support all of this to be dropped or will there be an attempt to migrate all of this material & labor to the WWW?

    • What about an Instructor's rights to their syllabus?

      Recently there was much turmoil at schools like UCLA when the university insisted instructors post their materials online and many refused.

      In refusing the instructors pointed out that their syllabuses were their tools-in-trade; individually developed by them & were expected to go with them when they came or left. Indeed much of these materials were written or otherwise developed by the individual instructors over the course of years and should the school attempt to publish them without the consent & remuneration of the faculty they'd simply place them under their personal copyright. How is MIT expecting to handle these situations?

    • What technical standards will MIT use in distributing it's materials?

      As noted before much of Athena's material may be problematic to move to today's online environment; how will MIT "future-proof" it's new investment in online materials to ensure they remain useable for the near future?

      HTML has come, gone through many revisions, and is now being depreciated in favor of XML all in the span of a decade. Most XML folks will confirm that they expect some large-number of the DTD's now being developed to fail or quickly become irrelevant. SGML is the preferred format for many commercial & government documents and is readily exported to it's descendants HTML & XML but few institutions produce material in it outside of large-commerce & government.

      Indeed if there are any standards for academia they're TeX, Postscript, WordPerfect 5.2 (common standards in legal & medical) and often some form of MS Word - none of which are easily/usefully portable to the WWW nor for which there are universal native viewers. Compounding the problem is the fact that much of this material will need to be accessible in a format that is translatable or speakable (for blind folks as well as for non-native Anglophones)

      Lastly many MIT courses & their online components include non-textual material: audio, video, interactive applications, etc. What standards will apply to these? Will all material be available in standard formats, will they be in unencumbered formats and if not how will the licensing be handled? For interactive materials will Java and/or other Java-like languages be used & platform independence maintained or will there be portions that require "BigCorp v.2 patch 117" (released 2002, still required in 2020) ?

    Again I applaud MIT in it's decision & feel they are doing the world a great service by both opening their own curriculum & leading the way for others to do the same. This program could have profound impact (both positive & negative) across not only academia but also in how governments (particularly 3rd world ones) support & develop their indigenous educational systems, the standards expected by hiring institutions, and what the "standard body of knowledge" is considered to be in any subject.

    I would be very interested in /. Arranging some sort of interview with the authors of MIT's plan & get their thought on these and many of the other questions that have been raised by /.'ers.

  • Hmm. Interesting, overall. But I do have a few things to say.

    As for your bad ideas, I don't think MIT is worried that students will sheat on exams. This is a voluntary action, and any tests that professors intend to reuse will likely not be posted.

    Also, I don't see the negative of "students can skip more classes referring to the web and how they already 'learned' [sic] something." I mean, this is a positive for students that are unable to make classes. And I don't know for certain about MIT in specific, but most universities at this level don't require attendance for classes.

    The goal of this program isn't to provide an MIT-caliber education for free, either. As such, "learning something with the assistance of a vocal teacher [sic] is not the same as reading it" is not really a negative. It's well understood.

    Now, as for governments providing "highly reduced incentives [sic]", I think the author must remember that MIT is a private institution. Now, the government might want to encourage businesses to do nice things to MIT in exchange for this. But this is not the role of the US government, at least not with private universities.

    As for "in the U.S. your [sic] supposed to be entitled to a free education", this simply does not apply to university. This, in fact, is patently false. This, of course, is the reason why the US university system has developed strong partnerships with industry, why there are private universities, and why the US university system has significantly larger resources at its disposal than other nations' systems.

    But, all said, it's a Good Thing[tm]. MIT isn't going to get extra money for this material by keeping it private (at least, not a significant amount), so opening it up is the Right Thing[tm].

    Oh, and I certainly hope all those children of welfare families go out and learn from these texts. Realistically, however, I don't think they will. I will, though.
  • You misinterpret my statements. By private, I mean that the university does not received government money for operation. Yes, the government does give these universities money through the form of grants from groups like the NIH and the NSF, but these are for specific research programs, not for general operation.

    Private universities (and the public universities in the US) get most of their funding from their endowments. For instance, at my alma matter, Rice University, most (greater than 80%) of the annual budget (last year, $286 million for a campus with 2600 undergraduate and 1400 graduate students) comes from the endowment ($3.37 billion - yes, close to $1 million per student). The situation is similar at other "prestigeous [sic] (technical) private universities", such as Stanford, Cal Tech, MIT, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton.

    Now, if you read my statements, I say that our private universy system has a) developed strong partnerships with industry (it has, far more so than in Europe), b) why there are private universities in the first place (Europe doesn't have very many), and c) why the US university system has significantly larger resources at its disposal (annual budgets per student at US universities eclipse those of European universities, despite European governments spending more money per student than US universities). Point c) is not causal from point a); instead, point c) is causal from an eduacation system that is not free, and thus have large endowments given by almumni. Sorry if I did not make that clear before. Points a) through c) were separate points, causal from having a non-free education system.

    In fact, even our public universities have large endowments. For instance, University of Texas at Austin had (my data are dated by now--from ~1990) the largest endowment of any university in the world, followed closely by Yale. Now, UT is a public university. Why would they have a large endowment? Because alumni give money to the university to help subsidize the education for future generations. The for-pay university system in the US has led to the US university system (both public and private) having enormous resources at their disposal.
  • Hmm...I should have added that tuition from students accounted for something like 1.5% of Rice's annual budget. Again, my figures are a little dated, but the endowment accounts for about 80% of the budget. Most of the remainder comes from private grants (from corporations, non-profit, and not-for-profit organizations), while the rest comes from government research programs, such as NIH and NSF.

    The NIH and the NSF account for 73% of government research spending (source: The Economist []). The US government spends about $28 billion in research. As a nation with the largest economy (about 25% of the world GDP is from the US), it makes sense that the US government is also the largest research spender. Compare spending per capita, or spending per GDP, and you might get a different picture, however.
  • Many people noted that this would be great for the people who can't "afford" to go to MIT. Well, at the risk of raising 1000 flames, what about the quality of the students you work with?

    True. But if you just want access to the basic information, this is great.

  • An MIT alum told me that he felt that in addition to a great experience being there, he had found a big advantage of an MIT education is the "ooh wow" factor... people (including hiring managers) assumed must be really smart/capable/etc. because he went to MIT. This "glow" could continue for decades.

  • Putting the coursework online for free is fantastic. The next logical step would be to publish curricula and allow anyone who wants to take exams to obtain MIT-approved qualifications.

    Obviously this sort of thing couldn't be free, as there would be costs involved in exam locations, supervision and marking, but I bet it would be popular.

    Two problems, however.

    Firstly, I bet that MIT's management would fear that something like this would dilute the perceived quality and value of MIT degrees, but at the end of the day, if the Open students are taking the same exams and being marked by the same criteria, as the "real" MIT students, then there's no real difference.

    Secondly, tutorials, labs, workshops and ongoing/coursework assessment are being used more and more in educational institutions. However, the UK's Open University [] holds tutorials in countries other than the UK, so there's no reason why MIT couldn't follow suit.


  • Its interaction with people that count.
    Its pretty much as before when you could go to
    the MIT bookstore (Harvard COOP) and buy the
    same textbooks as the students. Some people are
    able to educate themselves that way. Others
    require the prodding of regular lectures,
    assignments, and tests.
  • If you polk around you can find some MIT courses
    with syllabi, homework, and even text.
    Some of the departemental seminars are in
    streaming video.
  • This issue has come up at many universities. Some faculty have resisted. Concerns include:

    Extra cost of polishing materials for wider audience, especially in time. (I cant see how better material would help rather than hinder both paying and non-paying students.)

    Conflict with textbook publishing. The popular textbooks, several which are written by MIT profs, are big money makers for the publishing houses and the profs themselves. Some pubishing contracts even prohibit open distribution of texts. (Web texts would facilitate more timely upgrades.)

    Theft of material. Lazy or less competent teachers elsewhere could appropriate and call it their own. (However, the web makes it easy to identify thieves too. Many insitutions would fire blatant plagairzers.)

    Quality control. Would MIT set standards before allowing material on the open web? Or would each prof decide standards him/herself?

  • Except for some fundamental princples,
    by the time its gotten to a textbook,
    it is not state-of-the art.

    Go to the bookstore of a MIT-class university and
    you'll find upper-level undergraduate and graduate
    book selections rather thin. The reason is because
    much of that information has not yet been
    distilled into textbooks and the prof, who is
    inventing that information, is filtering it for you.

  • Let me respond with a little realism here.

    • A large percentage of the students at MIT already have access to archives of virtually all materials from a course. They're "known" as bibles and they're especially common at the many fraternities at MIT.

      Professors are aware of this and the content of the tests change quite often. And believe me even knowing what will be covered on the test is of limited help.

      This would also help put students without access to bibles on a more even footing.

    • Professors will hardly notice having to do this. Pity the the poor TA.

    • MIT students get screwed so hard and so frequently that a class with an out of date web site hardly appears on the radar.

    • 95% of MIT undergraduates live in dormitories or official living groups. Anyone who would be classified as "underpriveleged" lives in a dorm on campus. There are numerous public computer facilites available on campus. This is the result of Project Athena which is quite popular with the student body. Anyone who wants access to the material can get easy access to it. Though, it can be hard to find a free machine near the end of the term.

    Try and get a few facts before posting stuff like this.
  • I'll second that. I'm a college student and I haven't taken notes in a class since sixth grade (when the teacher made me and I did worse as a result).

    I was always the kid where every time we had to copy an overhead, I was the slowest by a full minute. If I just sit and listen though, I'll absorb it. If there are gaps in comprehension (it's amazing how many people aren't even able to tell whether they comprehend something or not) I will read the textbook. It's all there in grammar-checked prose, along with examples and extra detail. Why in the world would I ever want to take notes? It's not like I'd read them anyway.


  • Students at MIT arn't required to have a computer?
    Nope. There are clusters of workstations all over campus, and students get accounts, email, and disk space on MIT's servers. I brought my computer with me to MIT when I was a freshman, and I can't even remember turning it on while I was a student.
    Does MIT provide dial-up accounts to students?
    Yes, but I'm not sure if the service is free.
    Are the dorms wired?
  • by sethg ( 15187 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2001 @05:03AM (#316064) Homepage
    Abelson rocks! (ps his book with the Sussmans is also great. If only they would put it on the web...!)
    They did. []
  • by sethg ( 15187 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2001 @05:27AM (#316065) Homepage
    In addition MIT lacks a strong fundamental general education curriculum. CS students start doing CS from day one. There is no strong arts or humanities program. In addition, the student population is too uniform to be of interest. Students do not learn to effectively communicate with other kinds of people or across cultural boundaries because everyone there is the same, and those that aren't don't speak English anyways.
    At the time I attended MIT (about ten years ago), the HASS (humanities, arts, and social sciences) departments at MIT were in a weird political situation. The people in charge of undergraduate education were concerned that (in one dean's words) "too many MIT graduates work for too many Harvard and Princeton graduates", and they saw the HASS requirement as a tool for giving the geeks enough Culture that they could move into management. The heads of the science and engineering schools were annoyed by this, because tightening up the HASS requirement would give students less time for their science and engineering study, and because changing the admissions requirements to admit more "well-rounded" students meant that the average incoming freshman would not do as well as before in basic physics and calculus. Meanwhile, the HASS faculty were kind of peeved to be seen as mere service providers, rather than as professors of academic disciplines that were just as legitimate as math, physics, and computer science.

    However, if you go to MIT and you want to have a good knowledge of the humanities, you can get it. I majored in political science and minored in women's studies, and I thought the classes I took in those programs were excellent (and, in case you're wondering, the instructors in the women's studies program were not pushing a militant feminist "party line"). A friend of mine graduated with a double-major in physics and computer science. Heck, one of my freshman-year suitemates graduated with a degree in creative writing.

  • I agree with most of what you said in this message, but this point is BS. Such students - and I was often one of them, depending on the lecturer - can and do skip lectures and read the books and do well. I know I did that often as an undergrad.

    Er... because you did that, that's true of all highly intelligent students? I see... Was Logic one of the lectures that you used to skip? ;)

    Saying "the books are there, go read them" is a kind of "let them eat cake" argument. If the entire system is oriented towards delivering information through lectures, students who don't do well in lectures aren't given much guidance or support - they're left to fend for themselves, which you apparently did in some cases. That's what I'm suggesting needs to change.

    As much as anything else, offering options to students would help them realize that one size isn't supposed to fit all. Finding that the entire structure in which you're supposed to receive your education doesn't suit you tends to make you question why you're there at all.

    Anyway, I'm glad to hear you're being proactive about this kind of thing. Back when I went to university, if /. had existed then, you can bet none of my professors would have heard of it, let alone be reading it.

  • I don't disagree with much of what you've said - my original post was obviously somewhat in vent/rant mode.

    But the scenario you described: "thrown into that format, they would drift away or fail miserably", also applies perfectly to those who may be extremely bright but don't adapt well to the lecture format. So what the current system does, in effect, is discriminate against a minority group, for the very reason that they are a minority - since if we were a majority, you can bet the system would be skewed towards us, and the rest would just be remedial education.

    The systems in use need to become more flexible - a wider variety of options need to be made available to students. I wasn't really arguing for the complete abandonment of lectures, and I certainly wasn't arguing that the online format should be used to the exclusion of all else - I think that would be a very bad idea. But less blind reliance on the lecture format is needed, along with recognition of and at least some support for the spectrum of requirements of students. I know at this point you're thinking "does this guy know how many graduates we have to churn out every year?" or something along those lines. But are lectures as a primary form of communication really the most efficient use of the lecturer's time? I'm not suggesting changing or improving things will be easy, but it's encouraging to see an institution like MIT trying new things.

    I think the lecture format is a kind of crutch - easily repeatable and relatively undemanding for all concerned (no offense intended - I'm not trying to diminish what educators of all kinds do, this is more about systemic issues). It's also an easy model to use for almost any number of students, i.e. it's fairly scalable. It doesn't require any experimentation - it's well tested, and works with an acceptable percentage of students.

    But just because we have a system that's good enough for many people, doesn't mean it can't and shouldn't be improved. Unfortunately, it's very entrenched, the institutions using it tend to be rather conservative, and how to change it isn't obvious, so improvements aren't likely to be easy. Plenty of creativity, experimentation, and risk-taking will be required. My hope is that the changes required to accomodate online education will trigger other changes, ultimately creating a new, more inclusive balance in a system that's been relatively static for quite some time.

    I suspect the benefit to society as a whole could be quite great - as it is, some of the most valuable human capital is being squandered. The negative effects of being put through an unsuitable education system can be high. Then again, I can't help wondering whether this isn't all just an unconscious (or conscious) social balance mechanism, in which those who have the potential to be most dangerous and disruptive to society and the status quo are neutralized or at least hobbled.

    "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down."

  • by alienmole ( 15522 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2001 @06:57AM (#316068)
    I, and I'm sure thousands of others, will second that. Finally, there are alternatives to the traditional teaching methods geared towards the lowest common denominator. It's only natural that the sheep will complain, though, since they don't understand and don't know how to take full advantage.

    Why is it that the lowest bandwidth communications channel that humans have - the auditory channel - is used as a primary channel for delivering educational information? The whole concept of a "lecture" amazes me - one person stands and effectively reads from notes (no matter how well he's memorized them over the years) while N people sit and write down what he's saying. This has to be some kind of strange sociobiologically-rooted phenomenon related to herding behavior, but do we really need it nowadays? I'm not saying there shouldn't be face-to-face communication and Q&A's, but "lectures"? Maybe once every now and then, when someone like Martin Luther King Jr. or Abraham Lincoln has something to say, but other than that...

    The same thing happens in government - I was watching the music copyright hearings on CSPAN, with people like Don Henley and the RIAA testifying. Sen. Hatch starts out warning about how little time they have, after which all those testifying each in turn proceed to read their prepared speech. Sheesh! And people wonder why government is slow and inefficient???


  • Check the headline at it's against the "privatization of information". This implies that "information ought to be free", even if it was not necessarily the author's intention!

    Leandro Guimarães Faria Corcete Dutra
    DBA, SysAdmin
  • To have big fundings from the private sector is not necessarily a good idea. For one, CS courses are too "practical", that is, oriented to products, not to the fundamentals of the field. There are many courses in Universities that simply do not belong there, but are in the U. because of corporate funding.

    I suggest reading Skyscrapers with Shack Foundations [], by Fabian Pascal, and Edsger Dijkstra's Convocation Speech at Univ of Texas at Austin [].

    Leandro Guimarães Faria Corcete Dutra
    DBA, SysAdmin
  • Universities are there to train people to do research and invent cool new things. Unfortunately, many institutes claiming to be a university are really technical schools whose only purpose is to learn students some very basic job skills. Indeed this is something that can be done individually by a disciplined, intelligent person. However, many people who claim to have done so are in fact idiots with a stack of VB for newbies books on their desks. They are the people being kicked out by bankrupt .coms (probably there is some correlation with whether these people actually had a degree).

    Now, MIT is known for having produced some very bright people. Going there means you are educated by some very bright teachers. Getting a degree there means you are quite something. This is an experience you can't replicate by buying any book. Claiming that you can says more about you (dropped out of college?) than about universities.

    I work at a university. I have some colleagues that came back to university after having worked in industry for a couple of years. All state as the reason that working in industry as a programmer did not satisfy their intellectual curiosity. To me working here is worth the lower salary. I pitty wage slaves coding 80 hours a week on stupid ecommerce sites, endlessly reinventing the wheel.
  • Maybe it's different in the US, but here in europe there's a difference between universities and technical schools.

    Being at a university means that you are surrounded by bright people researching and learning. If you have a good teacher, the book that goes with the course complements the course rather than just summarizes it. Of course just being there is not enough is not enough. You have to participate. Doing so learns you valuable skills that you don't get from a book.

    Now my disdain was not directed at all people in industry but rather at those claiming to have reached a certain level of education, generally rewarded with a degree (either from a technical school or a university), when in fact they know close to nothing. Doing so is insulting to people who do have that knowledge and worked hard to get there. Of course you can get there without going to college but I must say that I don't know many people who can claim that (I have great respect for the ones that do BTW).

    Of course there are plenty of IT jobs that don't require a lot of education. I have taught a few programming courses and I have become convinced that I can get most intelligent people programming within weeks or months at most. Programming is not rocket science. And you are probably quite right that such individuals could help themselves by reading text books rather than wasting time listening to a guy reading that book in front of a class. System administration is another simple job, it just requires a lot of knowledge of the tools you have to work with. Their god like status in some organizations is worrying to me since I know I can beat them at their own game easily, given enough time to acquire knowledge about the tools they work with. You don't see a great deal of system adminstrators with proper university degrees simply because most people having such a degree would consider their carreers failed if they ended up playing maintenance mechanic.
  • hey homeboy, it's not like going to MIT is as cheap as going to your local community college. If you can through some means afford to pay that tuition, I'm sure you can find some way to have a computer at home.
  • Most teachers are there because they like to teach. If the class is 1/2 full, it may be easier for them, as they're teaching to a dedicated few who want to listen to them.

    If you went to a university where your profs liked to teach, I think you're in the minority. Most university profs are there to do their research, and not to teach. Some are good at both, but for a university prof, life is about publishing papers, not about educating students.

    One of my best profs (one of the few good ones) quit his job as a professor to teach at a community college. He wanted to teach students but was always pressured to do research and publish papers. He wasn't allowed to be "a teacher" even though all the students loved him and learned a lot from him.

    That's one of the big flaws of the educational system as I see it. Enough people want to be high-school teachers that the supply of available teachers stays high so salaries stay low. But that means the truly talented people who want to be teachers have to give up making very good money elsewhere to become teachers. Many don't, so the end result is a lot of mediocre high-school teachers.

    Then there's university. While having a PhD doesn't guarantee that someone is intelligent or skilled, it is often the case. To become a prof basically means dedicating yourself to learning, discovering, etc. Unfortunately being a good learner doesn't necessarily make someone a good teacher. Universities tend to make a lot of money off research grants, and not a lot off students' tuitions. Because of that they want their professors to produce -- to publish papers and get grants and stuff. This then breeds an attitude that time spent in the classroom is time spent away from the important research. Obviously this hurts the quality of the teaching, and the result is mediocre quality University "teachers".

    Can anything be done to fix the system? I think so, but it could be tough. Basically society needs to put more emphasis on having quality teachers. In the long run the results of this are clear, but the question is who pays in the short term?

    All in all though, I think this is great news from MIT. It won't be an easy thing to do, and they'll probably stumble a lot on the way. Think about it though, 20 years from now there'll be a huge amount of GPLed code out there in everything from appliances to satellites (I'm guessing). If you're having trouble understanding what exactly is going on in a kernel module in the ISS control system, just go over to MIT's web site and browse through 20 years of online course notes. For the world at large, this is a great thing.

  • There's more to an education than programming. I am glad I took courses in History, English, Liberal Arts, Biology. Can't say the same for Calculus though. I still haven't used Calculus in any of my programs I've written. But I also learned how much beer I could consume on the weekend and still function during the week. Of course back in the late 80's, beer was still sold on campuses.
  • Students would be able to view previous examinations, learn exactly what questions professors ask, and learn only those questions. This will lead to focused studying instead of the broad studying necessary for a real education.

    How is this different from studying from old exams? Anyway, there are many hidden fallacies in this assertion, in particular, that students study (much less broadly) and that students get a "real" education now.

    Professors will have extra work to do in keeping the web page up-to-date.

    Keeping the web site up-to-date is the TA's job.

    Students would grow mad at professors who do not keep their site up-to-date, leading to lawsuits pertaining to fair education, etc.

    Just like students do now to professors who don't keep their courses up-to-date. Didn't I tell you that keeping the web site up-to-date is not the professor's job?

    Students with computers at home (i.e., financially stable students) will have access at all times, while others (minorities, etc) will not, leading to an even bigger gap between upper- and middle-class.

    Somehow, I think any student who manages to find the money to go to MIT will find some way to get a computer.

  • heh, maybe now i'll actually go to college...

    'course, good bandwidth still ain't cheap..
  • the NSA has a scholarship program where they pay all your college expenses, and in return you work for them for 5 years. It may end up being "cooler" than working for the army/navy/air force, and you get your pick of any college. :-)

    I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.
  • Well, Mr. Javac, you must be mighty happy right now, because your trolling did just what it was designed to do: get lots of responses. Congratulations!!

    Don't get my wrong, as someone who will be attending MIT next year, I find this stuff interesting, but I'm sure there must be a better past time than trying to push people's buttons. Wouldn't you aggree? You could try looking for a Unified Theory, that's always fun, and it'll keep you entertained far longer than posting flamebait. Think about it.... ;-)

    I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.
  • QUOTE:: You can't successfully be a cival engineer by just reading and understanding. You have to have your work reviewed by professors and peers in labs and you have to be tested to gauge your understanding.::/QUOTE

    I don't find it difficult to believe that a person can teach themselves to do something without the benefit of formal testing. If someone is able to understand the concepts, then they understand the concepts.

    An interesting idea is that of open education. Like open source, you go online, and read about what you want to know. You don't pay for the information. There are always people who can help you along, just as you should help along those who are not as far along as you.

    I don't think that this sort of thing will ever replace a standard 'pay us for teachers' education anymore than I think Linux will ever replace Commercial OSes with the corporate backing and historical "trustworthiness" that microsoft has.

    People will always do what's easiest,

    But I think that we are seeing this open education model applied to Computer Science right now. I've got no formal schooling in programming, but I make an ok living at it. I taught myself with online resources, and the help of the Open Source community.

    I didn't exactly knock my hands off either. If you are skilled at something, and there is a market, you will be able to find work doing it.

  • according to the article, the materials posted "could include material such as lecture notes, course outlines, reading lists, and assignments for each course."

    unless read creatively, this list does not include exams or homework. the (very laudable) goal of the project is to make freely available the content of a first rate education. Posting tests wouldn't contribute to this goal, and would probably compromise the classroom itself.

  • There are a few flaws in your bad ideas --
    • Students may be able to cheat on exams
      Very doubtful, as the faculty know what's up on the web, also. Very few professors that I know of give the same test every semester. They do reuse concepts from the tests, but that's what you're supposed to be learning, so having old exams is not a bad thing.

    • Teachers may slack off on their intensity since students can just go online to learn
      Again, doubtful for a variety of reasons. Most teachers are there because they like to teach. If the class is 1/2 full, it may be easier for them, as they're teaching to a dedicated few who want to listen to them. From someone who's had to take classes from teachers who wrote their own books, I can tell you that the book's normally just as confusing as the teacher. With the teacher, at least you get a chance to ask questions.

    • Students can skip more classes
      That's one of the stupidest thing they could do. Not just for the reasons mentioned above, but unless you're taking a standardized test, it's the teacher who's writing the test. Although knowing the material is important, it's even more important to know what the teacher thinks is important. I got through college sleeping in class, because if I heard the teacher mention something twice, chances are, he mentioned it a half dozen times or so, and it was something significant. So I'd study that part. If the teacher never covered it, but the book had a whole chapter on it, I might skim it, but I'm not going to waste my time on it. And the teachers can change what they feel is important from year to year, so it may or may not have been significant before.

    • Learning someting with the assistance of a vocal teacher is not the same as reading it As above, I agree, but you have to question what this resource is intended for. It's intended to give people outside MIT the knowledge that MIT already has. MIT students would be foolish to use only these notes. If a student were actively taking a class at another university, they'd be a dumbass to just read the MIT notes, and not go to their own classes. That's not to say, however, that these materials would be bad for someone to use as suplimental material. [Especially when you have a teacher who wrote the book, and reads from the book in classes, so even if you didn't understand what he said in class, you can't just read the book for a different explaination]. It's also useful for people wanting to learn on their own, or high school teachers not knowing what to do with some 15 year old who's too damned smart, and they just need to give him something to keep him tied up so he doesn't interupt the rest of the class who still hasn't learned the materials.

    • MIT can lose students since they could go to other universitiyes and still learn at their level
      From this, I'd have to wonder just what you did in college. College has many, many purposes, and only one of them is book learning. First, you have to learn about youself-- are you really sure that what you picked as your major is something that you really want to do for the rest of your life? [I know I've done nothing with my BS in engineering for the last 4 years, but my college job is the computer center paid off]. Sure, this could realistically be done anywhere, so long as the school has enough diverse subjects. Additionally, college slows us down another 4 years before entering the workforce, which helps to keep us from flooding the market with raw labor which is willing to work for less than the people who have been working for Company X for the last 20-30 years. And again, this one can be done anywhere. So, we have to ask ourselves, what does MIT give us that other schools don't?
      First off, the name. An engineering degree from MIT means more than an enginnering degree from Prince George's Community College. Sure, they're both ABET acredited, but the MIT diploma's going to get you that interview more often than not. Second, there's the networking. Faculty members often have side consulting jobs with various companies, and I'm guessing that MIT's career center has massive contacts due to alumni and companies who want their students. Networking is one of the things that people seem to overlook the most about a college.

    • Upkeep may be hellish
      That's what databases are for. A well designed site is easy to maintain. A poorly designed site takes almost as long to make changes as it did to make the whole things in the first place.
    I know you're saying that your good points outweigh your bad points, but well, I still think your bad points were overinflated to start with. If a student does poorly because of this system, there's a reasonable chance that it's due to the student, and not the system.
  • Ahh....
    I had forgotten that many people haven't learned the ways of the professors yet. There are two types of professors -- the tenured ones, and the good ones.

    If you can help it, don't take classes from tenured teachers. They've been there too long. Find the associate professors who maybe teach one or two classes a semester, and hold a job in their field the rest of the time, or the ones who only teach classes in the spring, or only in the fall, etc, so they're still current on their topic.

    I guess there are some fields for which this doesn't hold true (liberal arts), but one of my best engineering classes was taught by a guy who had retired from the Army Corps of Engineers and was teaching to kill time.

    I've heard the stories of folks taking Computer Security classes, and having the teacher showing them slides from 1976 [well, it was 1995 at the time, at least], and being told 'oh, yeah, don't worry, they're old, but things haven't changed that much'

    The larger of a school you go to, the better your chances are at managing to avoid certain professors. Of my least liked professor, who wrote the books for 5 of the classes, I only got stuck taking two of them with him. Hell, in one of 'em, the other professor refused to use his book, and actually gave us a book I could understand for Thermodynamics.

    Oh...and I definately know all about the grants -- I tried blowing the whistle on a student project that was missing most of its equiptment because the faculty advisor was starting up his own business, and was claiming his students' work as the work of his company. Unfortunately, I didn't know he was responsible for a multimillion dollar grant, and so, he and the dean threatened to have me expelled and fired from my job at the university. [and I'd like to say that it's a bad idea to threaten people with root access to the main mail server on campus, from a computer security point of view]
  • I've taken (far too) many engineering classes, several of which were "distance learning" classes delivered on video tape, with tests administered by snail mail. I did all the required stuff, asked a few questions by email, and that was it. I would say that this type of format is 50% as effective as traditional classroom format.

    Don't get me wrong, I'll browse every online offering from MIT, it will probably be fascinating, and I'll probably learn something. But IMHO this is *not* the way formal education should be delivered.


    Free Database Hosting []

  • Students with computers at home (i.e., financially stable students) will have access at all times, while others (minorities, etc) will not

    MIT provides all students with round-the-clock computer access on high-quality UNIX workstations. The rest of your post is not worth commenting on.

  • Many people attending MIT don't have computers because the 'public' (open to all students) computing facilities are so good. In fact, I do not own a computer because I have access to theirs. Requiring students to own a computer would not be a popular idea.
  • It appears we have an ID-10T error here.

    You don't go to MIT for a strong humanities program. You can go to the school up Chuck River for that.

    You go to MIT to learn HOW to think technically. It's not important what you know, but how you digest and use scientific information. This is difficult to obtain from course materials alone.

    Think of it as being a chef and going to France. You are probably a damn good cook before hand, but until you have that something "extra", whether it be French attitudes or the ability to finish a Unified Engineering problem set in one overnight session, you'll never be as good as someone who's been there.

    And BTW, I've used Reversible Computing at my job. Then again, I am in research.
  • An MIT degree will still be worth the same to you, this doesn't cheapen it at all. The difference between actually attending MIT and just reading the stuff online is night and day. Firstly, as a student you're expected to keep up with assignments, study for tests, etc. If you don't do that, you suffer the consequences (low grades). Your diploma and transcript reflect this achievement. If you fail or withdraw from a class, it shows up. Not so with people reading the material online. What proof is there that the individual comprehended the material?

    Secondly, and probably equally important, when you went to MIT you interacted with others who are probably at least similar to your coworkers. Working in teams, study groups, and making friendships is a very underrated part of college.

    If MIT follows through with this (and given the nature of the university I feel that they will, at least to an extent), it will really benefit the non-MIT student who wants to understand a little bit more about the material. I go to a public university, and it would be a tremendous help to be able to search MIT class materials for extra information.

    I think that the people hypothesizing about this move creating a cheating problem haven't been in college for a few years; most (good) professors these days put old tests, notes, etc. online for students to use. When we're talking about MIT, we're not talking about slacker professors who are just going to reuse the same test semester after semester. Concerns about cheating shouldn't prevent this project from being realized.
  • I agree that not everyone learns best in a classroom, but lectures work for a reason (and that is why textbooks haven't displaced them.) There is a social pressure to pay attention in class, so that class time acts as a way to committ yourself to learn (unlike that book you haven't read yet.) Like live theater versus the movies, there is a tension in a classroom that isn't present in a recorded or digital performance. A video recording of a live theater production is usually quite bad, as is a televised lecture by a supposedly good professor or a CSPAN broadcast of a hearing that may seemed tension-filled in person -- look at the glare on that Senator's face! -- but boring as hell on TV.

    Also, the combination of listening and looking (at the blackboard, or at slides or at a powerpoint presentation) is effective for a lot of folks (not all.)

  • Your final point is mote,

    I quote

    Main Entry: mote Pronunciation: 'mOt Function: noun Etymology: Middle English mot, from Old English; akin to Middle Dutch & Frisian mot sand Date: before 12th century : a small particle : SPECK

    So basically you're saying that a point is a speck... very insightfuly ;)

  • Ok, I'll bite...

    Students may be able to cheat on exams.
    Upkeep may be hellish

    Many of MIT's courses are already online in some form or another. Many of these classes distribute old tests ( [] is one example that has quizzes from the last 3 terms - other home pages are linked from the course catalog [].

    MIT can lose students since they could go to other universities and still learn at their level

    MIT is more than just course materials. It is being surrounded by some of the smartest people in a given field. Where else can you take a class on accoustics [] taught by Bose? Or take a required, introductory biology class taught by one of the principle investigators in the human genome project. [] Or on a smaller level, email a professor with a question at 2 am, and get a response in a few minutes.

  • I know that the University that I currently attend (UC Riverside []) has a lot of it's courses available online []. It's quite usefull to have your course notes available in an easily desiminated and modifiable format like most of the available digital formats allow.

    Of course, MIT's plan seems to be much better than ours, as online class information is generally only available to students who are enrolled in the corse for most courses (although this is at the discretion of the professor, who can decided whether or not to allow public acces.)

    In it's short tenure here on campus, it has become one of the most usefull resourses available for many classes. (Saves me from getting my information on dead tree format)

    I know quite a large number of fellow slashdotters are also university students, or recently graduated, so I'll pose a question (that hopefully will be answered by at least a few of you): What sorts of resources are available on your campus?

    Don Armstrong -".naidnE elttiL etah I"
  • Let's look at what would happen if every exam, every homework, etc. were to be posted on the Internet.
    • Students would be able to view previous examinations, learn exactly what questions professors ask, and learn only those questions. This will lead to focused studying instead of the broad studying necessary for a real education.
    • Professors will have extra work to do in keeping the web page up-to-date.
    • Students would grow mad at professors who do not keep their site up-to-date, leading to lawsuits pertaining to fair education, etc.
    • Students with computers at home (i.e., financially stable students) will have access at all times, while others (minorities, etc) will not, leading to an even bigger gap between upper- and middle-class.
    The creed of Geeks everywhere is "Information wants to be free." In this case, though, I think that this information should be confined to the institution where it belongs. Don't destroy glorious MIT just because it's the latest "cool thing".

    That's just the way it is
  • In my mind, the real value of this initiative is to provide energetic individuals with the necessary resources to move into a new area of study or to supplement professional training/experience. For instance, I received a bachelors in Industrial Management, and a Masters of Information Systems at Carnegie Mellon. I took a substantial number of technical courses for both degrees, but I didn't get a fundamental grounding in computer science.

    Flash forward 3 years, I'm thinking of pursuing a Masters in Computer Science now, but I don't have the pre-requisites for acceptance into a good program. So, I am taking undergrad courses via the internet at the University of Illinois at a cost of $1800 a pop. The course I am taking now is great (data structures), but I'd much rather take it for free. Granted, I get access to the professor and TAs if I have questions, but as yet, the only resource I have used is the class newsgroup, and there is nothing stopping someone for creating such a newsgroup for individuals studying through the MIT program.

    Another issue is that U of I is not offering all of the classes I need when I need them. The MIT plan sounds pretty comprehensive; I am fairly certain that all of the classes I need to prepare for a graduate CS program will be made available. This program is a godsend for me, and I plan to make full use of it as long as it remains available...I'm guessing the next time I'm interested in drastic a career change (or I'm just bored stiff and need some intellectual stimulation), I'll have the resources necessary to prepare me to do so.

    Think of it, the next time you are sitting around with a bunch of your friends with nothing to do on a weekend, you can all rally together and learn structural geology, or ship power and propulsion, or cell biology, or .... mmmmmmm... education

  • One of the most interesting lines in the NYT article concerned MIT's expectation of how others might hook in to their Open CourseWare initiative: " it will offer course materials as ingredients of learning that can then be combined with teacher-student interaction somewhere else -- or simply explored by, say, professors in Chile or precocious high school students in Bangladesh."

    Here's my thought: Slashdot, with the best moderated discussions on the web, would be in a great position to offer a brokering service for that "teacher-student interaction" that the article talks about. It's fine to have MIT course materials on the web, but it would be really neat to be able to sign up as a registered participant in an online discussion, using Slashdot software, moderated by a Slashdot-experienced moderator, and based on a particular MIT course.

    Such a scheme would offer people who have developed significant expertise in a particular technology or mastered some complex body of knowledge to contribute to the community in a structured way, either as a course guide, or a discussion moderator, or even as a grader for those participants who chose to take the tests and submit papers.

    That sort of extension of an idea is what really gives Open Source its power. It's not just that Linus releases the source for the kernal, but that thousands of people build on that release to create very specifically useful systems.

    "Where did you learn all that stuff?"

    "I took the MIT courses on Slashdot!"


  • Related to this post see The ArsDigita University [] which has been discussed here before.

    They have quite a bit of material, albeit CS related, on the web already. Content includes notes, homework, and video of the lectures. It is the equivalent of a CS masters program and the Stanford's of the world.

  • I whole-heartedly agree.
  • by ChristianBaekkelund ( 99069 ) <> on Wednesday April 04, 2001 @07:13AM (#316098) Homepage
    As an MIT student, a couple quick notes:

    1) Someone pointed out that a lot of the courses materials are currently already on the web, and this is VERY true! I'm surprised that people are so excited about seeing this happen from the standpoint that it's largely already happened.

    2) Many people noted that this would be great for the people who can't "afford" to go to MIT. Well, at the risk of raising 1000 flames, what about the quality of the students you work with? Now I'm not about to judge MIT's admissions policies at all (that could easily start a 1000 message flame...heh), but I will say that personally, I have learned more from working with my fellow students of amazing initiative and intelligence, than from any course materials. IMHO, that would be the key thing missing from an "Open course". Not to say that there aren't capable people who aren't at MIT....again, that's an admissions issue. For example, I feel I've read far more interesting comments in Slashdot discussions than in the rote news article links posted... don't you? Would you be able to have the same levels of cooperative interaction with fellow students via the web of the same caliber of that of MIT students? I think it's doubtful, if due to no other reason than current constraints of the medium.

    3) In reply to: "students would be able to view previous examinations, learn exactly what questions professors ask, and learn only those questions." Well, many many already do, as MANY classes have past exams already on the web for review. Guess what? It doesn't work.

    4) The amount of work required to make these courses actually potentially credit worthy may be HELLISHLY massive. A couple people mentioned this already, and I just want to re-iterate that a number of the professors I've heard talk about this have mentioned that. Having to suddenly grade 5100 tests instead of 100?...eek! There goes any sort essay tests or anything similar. In any case, I have the feeling that that isn't going to happen any time soon, but it will stick to informative materials only.

    5) Javac the great is ridiculously un-informed. "MIT lacks a strong fundamental general education curriculum. CS students start doing CS from day one." What nonsense. First, CS students do not even remotely start doign CS from day one...I don't even know what that means it's so ridiculous. I took one CS class in the second half of my freshman year. ONE of 8 or 9 freshman year classes were CS. Also, MIT has an amazing humanities department. Currently, for example, I'm double majoring in Computer Science AND a humanities (Film & Media Studies), and both departments are top-notch.

    Just a couple quick notes...

  • The written coursework provides a basis with which to ground everything you're learning in class. The exams are always different, and in any case require a strong theoretical knowledge and understanding of the areas covered, without which you wouldn't know where to start.

    I applaud this initiative. Few students will be able to use it as "distance learning" as the classrooms and TAs won't be there to answer questions that are sure to come. As they say, learning at MIT is like taking a drink from a firehose. And everyone at MIT has access to a computer.

    IMO, one of the great advantages of this plan is that it will help other universities and professors in designing their coursework.

    OK, so I'm biased.


  • I'll take you up on point number 2, and both agree and disagree. Yes, the average student at the average school would miss out on your peer group. But where many of us work, we would have already have a tremendous peer group that could help out. Where you say that you have learned more from working with your fellow students, most of us say we have learned more from working with our fellow employees.

    This is big news to continuing education more than to other university students in my view.

  • I asked one of my professors why he doesn't put the Powerpoint slides he uses in lecture on the course web site along with the rest of the crap. He replied that students would get the false notion that they don't need to come to class, but the bigger issue is that legally, once he did this he would lose all rights to his lecture material, and they would become property of the university - the info does not even have to be put on the university's servers. Can someone in the field of law comment on this please? P.S. The guy's name is Randall H. McGuire, he teaches anthropology at Binghamton University. By popular opinion he is a pretty nasty guy, if anyone has any idea of how to deal with him, please do share.
  • It sounds like the lectures you have experienced haven't impressed you, but lectures can be very helpful. While reading from a book or notes verbatim is both a waste of time and money (I have a professor doing this currently) I have also had the priviledge to be in a class where the lecturer discussed the material from the book as it matters today, in everyday life. Another professor used the materials as a starting point and forced you to look at the subject from a different point of view than the book presented. I guess what I am trying to get at is that the documentation students read is supposed to be a tool for the teachers that will give the student a base from which to expand upon. Few can read a book and understand something better than if they experience something, and the lecture - if you lucky - will not just repeat what the written material was, but expand upon it and open avenues of thought.
  • Dissemination of information (and teaching materials) is the real purpose of the web and the ability to conduct real research through a site such as MITs will only serve to make things better.

    Personally I'm extremely excited about the prospects of this. Obviously, not everyone can afford an MIT education (and no amount of reading off the web could actually sub for an MIT course I'd assume) but it still gives underpriviledged and even "not so highly priviledged" individuals the chance to learn outside their normal means. Hopefully other Universities will eventually follow suit, because this can only be the beginning.

    Thank you MIT.

  • The point is (as someone who also attends MIT, finishing my degree part-time), my entire MIT experience was the students that I was with. I found that many of my professors were useless, and had a terrible attendance record. I got my "education" from the web, books, and my fellow students. (ironically, the classes with good prof's were at 9AM and I slept through them anyways, oh well)

    The material being online will fulfill two needs. It will make life easier on MIT students, knowing that all their information is easily available. It will avoid the stupid mess of courses lacking websites or having subpar ones, and as a side benefit (that they will trumpet for good media attention), they provide a public service.

    MIT's school is solid and well rounded. However, outside the CS department (and some of the math department classes), the web sites are horrible, useless and outdated. Providing a real system for education for the students and those outside is great.

    I don't want to question the intelligence of your peer group (and as Christian said, open 1000 flames), but it isn't the same. They may be just as bright, but they probably have to do work and stuff. MIT Students are famous for blowing off their work to help others. Having a school of insomniacs that are extremely intelligent and having nothing to do but school work and hang with friends is something you can't compare to working with intelligent people.

    Even if your friends have the brain power, they are unlikely to have the time.

  • Yes and a professor can sound very authentic and correct and yet be totally wrong. What's your point? I disagree that any idiot can learn from a text. But there are people who can. There are people who are bored in a classroom situation, and learn more from books. This is not to say that it's not nice to have someone to ask questions of, but that doesn't have to be a professor. The entire education system is bogus, the only reason I'm there is to get that piece of paper.
  • There is no strong humanities program

    Good it's rediculous that I was forced to take crap classes to make me a well rounded college student. I was well rounded before I got there. I went to university to learn Computer Science. Of course it turns out that I learned nothing from that program either, but at least I don't feel like I'm being suckered from my money.

  • I'm not saying that teachers are useless, but they are not necessary for everyone. I never needed college except for that piece of paper. It's not so much wasting money, when I have to have it. I don't go to class, except to turn things in and take tests, and yet my grades are good, better than good in Computer Science. I'm not going to sit in a class and listen to information that I already know because a professor has to appeal to the avergage level of knowledge of a group. I can learn more on my own. Now if I was going to a class where it was just a professor and me, that would be a different story. If I were allowed to go at my pace instead of the dullards that sit in COSC classes because they think they'll make a lot of money, I would have been much happier in school. But the simple fact is I never needed a professor. I could converse with them on their level, I could converse with them on their level as a senior, and I can converse with them on their level now. Your mistake, and many others, is assuming that all professors are omniscient in their discipline. This is not nearly the case and I've proven it time and time again.
  • No that was not my mistake. Read first and then respond. I said maybe it would have been different had I not been held back by other students. I could do graduate level work when I entered college. Of course professors may have something to teach anyone, then again they may not. It's professors who write the books. The information is out there. As far as who is smarter, who knows, all I know is that I breezed through every class without paying any attention.

    If you want a job when you get out of school go to a trade school. A University should be training course preparing you for study. It is not a technical school. I don't need literature courses, I have a firm background in that area, as well as history. And yet I was forced to sit through boring classes as if I'd never read and was unaware of the culture of this country, or for that matter the world. You can know more make the blanket statement that school is needed for everyone thatn I can say that it isn't.

  • If you wasted your time, that doesn't mean that you failed in the education system. You could have done everything on your own like many others.
  • by awhoward ( 108214 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2001 @07:43AM (#316110) Homepage
    Bravo MIT! This is a great step forward.

    But you can do more.

    What if MIT (and possibly other schools) were free? Once you're in, you don't pay anything. Could this possibly be done? How much money would it take? Less than you might think:

    In round numbers, MIT collects $25,000 (a good share of which is already covered by financial aid) from 4000 undergraduates every year. That's $100 million per year. How large of an self-sustaining endowment is necessary to generate this kind of cash each year? For a 5% return, 2 billion dollars is required. For a 2% return, the figure is 5 billion.

    That's a lot of money, but it is the same order of magnitude that Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and other schools are raising in just a few years time (Harvard raised 2.somthing billion in it's recent capital campaign). There are quite a lot of very rich entrepre-nerds who got their start at MIT (and many other schools). I'd bet that many of them would be willing to give generously if they knew that enrollment at their university would be free of charge.

    This could kick off a revolution: free (and therefore universal) college education. The fact that a top university would be free would force other universities to do the same. The result would be many more minorites, poor kids, and kids from rural areas going to college. Now that is a realization of the American Dream. It would be to the benefit of MIT, as well; their annual crops of bright, young freshmen would be even more diverse and talented.

    If you think that this idea is crazy, I'll remind you that most of Europe has free post-secondary education.

    -Andrew Howard (class of '98 @ MIT -- physics)

  • Nothing can be done for the student that would sacrifice his education for a grade. So a student's propensity to "focus study" is probably related to his/her own shortcomings as a student, and a course website does not constitute his/her only means of "cheating the system".

    For this type of student (and many others in fact), the real purpose of enrolling in a school like MIT is to get the degree, which provides the bearer with a considerable upgrade in the labor market. This is what justifies the financial investment (i.e.future earnings).

    For many good students, the purpose of going to school is to learn cool things. And for a few students the learning of cool things will not translate into more income (maybe because they don't want to work for a huge corporation after graduation or because they are already happily employed).

    The latter represents the "pure student". The trouble with the pure student is that he can not justify the financial investment required to attend MIT.

    So look at this program as a public school financed by a tax on the future earnings of a bunch of MIT students. A student only interested in learning will be able to get access to information without paying the tax on future earnings (since this student will not hold a degree s/he will not compete with the matriculated MIT students in the labor market). Everyone is happy. And perhaps this pure student may gather enough education to do something purely intellectual (that is, not financed by corporations either directly or idirectly -- via colleges).

    If the pure student is also poor, then he should make the modest investment in a computer and internet connection more easily than the investment in an MIT education.

    I believe that the pure pursuit of knowledge is something that must be supported at some level.
  • Personally I think that this is a great idea. In fact, I've already sent an email to Charles Vest (the MIT president) [mailto] letting him know that I support the OpenCourseWare initiative.

    Perhaps the community could help to contribute to this effort by establishing a means of communication (message boards, etc.) for people working through the online courses.

    On a side note, I attend the University of Texas at Austin []. While there I've begun to work with some professors on some web based interactive supplements for our Introduction to Electrical Engineering class. You can see what we have so far at []

  • Not just that. I good Prof is sometimes not enough. You also need a good student body. With an apathetic class, a good Prof can do next to nothing.

    I am not sure why the strong anti-academia mentality has grown in the tech industry. An industry born out of research within the academic sector. People like Church, Turing, Kleene... the grandfathers of computer science... guess what? They came from University - along with their break-through research.

    So anyway - the main problem that I see at modern University is not that of bad Professors... I see the problem of an apathetic close-minded student body. Remember your roots, and you will realize the value of University.
  • by Jagasian ( 129329 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2001 @11:29AM (#316123)
    ...the best professors that is. There is nothing more valuable than a good teacher. Frank Pfenning [] , in my opinion, is one of those great teachers. I am not a student of the university that he teaches at, but I can still follow along his courses, read his class notes and do his homework. I highly recommend his courses to any computer scientist who is interested in the foundations of computer science (constructive logic and the lot).

    After following through Prof Pfenning's material, I have given allot of thought to going to CMU... I just need more money ;-)
    Anyways, thanks CMU and thanks Prof Pfenning!
  • But IMHO this is *not* the way formal education should be delivered.

    In MIT's not so humble opinion, its not the way education will be delivered. That's why they won't give credit for web courses. That's also why they feel they can give away the stuff on the web for free, but still charge something like $30,000 a year in tuition to their real students. They understand that the real value lies not in the materials, but in the interaction with the people at the school. But you'd know that if you'd bothered to read the article. Why don't you go do that now?
  • The NYTimes article states "... a cost of up to $100 million." My question is, how in the world can this cost $100 million? Even as a 10-year plan, that's $10 mil a year. This (online lecture notes) seems very similar to what most professors at most universities and colleges already do. Granted, the cost of video lectures might bump this up, but I'm sure VoyeurDorm and other porn sites spend a lot less than this and (despite the "dorm" in their name) don't have the benefit of student labor.

  • Still, is the institute worried that M.I.T. students will balk at paying about $26,000 a year in tuition when they can get all their materials online?

    "Absolutely not," Dr. Vest said. "Our central value is people and the human experience of faculty working with students in classrooms and laboratories, and students learning from each other, and the kind of intensive environment we create in our residential university."

    This is a refreshing change in attitude! Too many educators assume that it all just boils down to class time. Hence "distance learning" that's just recyled Educational TV, and extension classes that attempt to cram an entire semester into a few weekends.

    MIT deserves kudos, not just for making this material available, but for turning their backs on the usual pseudo-scholarly ebranding snake oil.


  • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2001 @08:00AM (#316134)
    Someone decides to give away their intellectual material to the entire world, to no real benefit to themselves, and what do you hear from the /. peanut gallery? A bunch of posts pissing all over the idea, all trying to look insightful doing it.
  • These are all very predictable responses from someone who fears that their 4-6 years and thousands of dollars could be done more efficiently for those who learn better at their own pace.

    Not Everybody Learns Well in the Classroom!
  • Some areas of Knowledge can only be learned by experience with physical objects.

    I would like to rephrase this: "Some areas of Knowledge can only be learned by experience with the Real World physical objects."

    eg. Higher ed can't throw you into a real software development cycle with real up-to-date programming methodologies.
  • Students may be able to cheat on exams.

    As an Intructional Psychology and Technology PhD student, let me lessen some of your fears

    • Teachers may slack off on their intensity since students can just go online to learn.
    • Won't teachers have more time from research, then bring more to the classroom? I doubt MIT worries about its teachers not trying.

    • Students can skip more classes referring to the web and how they already "learned" something.
    • This won't help them on the exam. Hey, in a well-constructed course you shouldn't have to take roll. (Unless the class is based on dialog, like philosophy, but most web courses are not).

    • Learning something with the assistance of a vocal teacher is not the same as reading it.
    • True, but on a web course, you can watch video demonstrations over and over, and read sections again and again. You don't have to worry about missing something in your notes during a lecture. You get to move at your own pace.

      I helped program the online course for basic physics during my undergrad. When we were teaching the laws of motions, we went to the ice rink and shot some video of hockey players. The student could watch that clip, and listen to the narration until they understood it. We got positive feedback about that.

    • MIT can lose students since they could go to other universities and still learn at their level.
    • Schools do compete for the best and brightest, and web courses will not change that. Nor with someone who scores perfect on their SAT will not choose to attend Jr. College instead of going to MIT.

    • Upkeep may be hellish
    • Ever try to keep up a tradional course? Web courses are a breeze.

  • For several centuries, the University has been the predominant model of advanced education -- an institution of higher learning, bringing together experts who impart knowledge through formalized classes, culminating in the granting of diplomas to verify success.

    Now enters the concept of Open Knowledge, of which Open Source is a subset.

    Assume, for a moment, that "Knowledge wants to be free". In a real sense, people do not invent Knowledge -- instead, we discover Knowledge. Protein folding and stellar dynamics, like all matters of science, follow rules independent of human understanding; in the most fundamental sense, people are observers of Knowledge, not its creators.

    Universities came into existence as central locations for the sharing and imparting of Knowledge. People travelled to the University for education, because the University had no way to broadcast its information. That, of course, has changed, with the advent of mass communications. Via the Internet, many (but not all, or even most) types of knowledge can be transmitted almost anywhere, at any time, regardless of physical barriers.

    For computer software engineering, the University is rapidly becoming obsolete. Technical Knowledge, by nature, is easily transmitable via the Internet. We don't learn Python or Apache by going to a University; we learn such topics in their native environment, online via computers.

    For other areas of Knowledge, however, the University cannot be so easily replaced. I might be able to learn Python online, and I might be able to order robot parts from web stores, but, from my house, I can't use a 10-meter telescope or experiment with a particle accelerator.

    Some areas of Knowledge can only be learned by experience with physical objects. While the Knowledge may be free, obtaining that Knowledge may incur costs or require physical presence. I can see a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton on the web, but to do useful science, I need to touch the bones and perhaps dig them from the ground to gain a context for the skeleton.

    What MIT is doing is good -- but the University provides facilities that will remain useful for the foreseeable future, in most fields of Knowledge. But for those areas of Knowledge that can be distributed, we need a new "University" model to recognize learning and skill -- a new "sheepskin", so to speak.

    Scott Robert Ladd
    Master of Complexity
    Destroyer of Order and Chaos

  • You've expressed one of my problems with hiring people whose experience is limited to a college education. Of course, a lack of practical experience with software development extends beyond those who've just finished a degree -- I've seen a lot of "script kiddies" recently, who think they are "developers" because they learned how to write Perl scripts from web tutorials. They have little or no clue about working with people on design, analysis, and development.

    (Note this is not a slam at Perl, or college grads, or anyone in particular. One of the best programmer's I've ever hired was a straight-from-college guy who was eager to learn. And I've been known to dabble in Perl and Javascript myself...)

    Scott Robert Ladd
    Master of Complexity
    Destroyer of Order and Chaos

  • I think this is the sort of selflessness I used to expect from Universities before I went to one and found out what they are really like. A flaw in the capitalist system is the difficulty in price discrimination: charging people what they can afford for goods that have very low marginal cost but require a large investment. MIT is doing this by providing both the high-priced option (degree, professor support, community) and the no-price option (just the bare content - figure it out yourself). Maybe next is the low-price option (online community, email professor support, etc.)

    Personally, I got a degree from an accredited university, but found that I taught myself everything (I learn better visually rather than audibly and was shy, so didn't find lectures or professor access very valuable.) Of course, having the degree lets me convince others that I actually learned something, which allows me to hold a better job, so it was worth the price.

    A comprehensive computer science education is already out there on the web for anyone with a compelling interest to find. I taught myself Linux and C using only free resources on the web. The real benefit here might be if other universities started putting non-CS, non-engineering coursework up: economics, history, political science, business. These are pretty poorly represented right now. I think there are two audiences: people in less-developed countries that still have web access and older people who still have the desire to learn but don't have the time to go back to school. Falling into the second camp, I am eagerly looking forward to this and to other university efforts.

  • Cooper Union is an example of this. It's an excellent engineering and architecture school in New York City with zero tuition.

    Of course, it's next to impossible to get into.

  • Philip Greenspun has been arguing for something like this [] for a while now. Ars Digita University may not have a physical presence next year, but it's good to see MIT setting an example for other schools, even if it is done in such baby steps.

    There has been quite a flap lately over teachers wanting to restrict the information disseminated in their courses, to make everything proprietary and closed, but there's a fundamental tie between educational ideals and the free flow of information that can and should be exploited to improve the world's access to knowledge. To the extent that MIT's curriculum is distinctive and may want to influence the curriculums of other schools, the best way to make the world see how good your ideas are is a very old idea- make them public and subject them to peer review. If your ideas are effective, they'll be widely adopted. I think MIT is doing something very smart- they want people to see why they have a reputation for technical excellence.

  • Does that mean I can alter and freely distribute the course as long as I include the source code?

    Of course, other universities will have to follow suit. Otherwise, you'll see Harvard School of Business courses traded on Gnutella.

    Is Canadian search engine going under? []

  • MIT is seriously overrated. Quite a bit of their courses offer any practical educational value; most are science-fiction. How many of you have used Surreal Numbers or Reversible Computing in your job or research. Or ever.

    In addition MIT lacks a strong fundamental general education curriculum. CS students start doing CS from day one. There is no strong arts or humanities program. In addition, the student population is too uniform to be of interest. Students do not learn to effectively communicate with other kinds of people or across cultural boundaries because everyone there is the same, and those that aren't don't speak English anyways.

    And finally, most valuable about an MIT education would the contacts made. Which obviously you're not going to get browsing a web-page about Molecular XOR gates.

  • I agree with everything except your "bad ideas", which hardly make sense.

    My complaint with almost all of these is that I don't see a difference between on-line course material and off-line course material. For example, since exams will not be on-line, at least not unitl they're old, cheating is not more probable with on-line "OpenCourseWare". Similarly, the comment that "Teachers may slack off on their intensity since students can just go online to learn" doesn't make sense, because currently professors can and do assume that students can "just go to the library and learn". Continuing this comparison, learning on-line is not inherently easier or harder or better or worse than learning out of an (off-line) book. Further, MIT currently often makes course-material available by publishing it (you've heard of the MIT Press?), so I can't see how MIT would lose students (and they probably still have many more applicants than they accept anyway --- students are not exactly in short supply if you're MIT).

  • Noam Chomsky was the head of linguistics there I thought. He still is if he hasn't retired.

    Besided being a groundbreaker in his time in linguistics, he is one of the aharpest writers on the corporate media as it relates to U.S. foreign policy that I've ever seen.


  • For example, since exams will not be on-line, at least not unitl they're old.

    Way I understand is, is... Even if exams are old, say from a semester or two ago, there can be instances where the same exams will be given, giving anyone with a keen sense of "where to look" the ability to memorize information.

    Similarly, the comment that "Teachers may slack off on their intensity since students can just go online to learn" doesn't make sense, because currently professors can and do assume that students can "just go to the library and learn".

    Agreed, but take a slacking professor, or a professor who maybe is at wits end, or has a fallout with the university, or whatever is going through his mind, but he just does not feel he has to give it all he should be giving it. His excuse in his mind may be "well they can get it from the net" it happens.

    Continuing this comparison, learning on-line is not inherently easier or harder or better or worse than learning out of an (off-line) book.

    Sure learning without an instructor is more difficult, you have no one to interact with, no one to point you in the right directions should you not understand something, no one to correct you from misconstruing something. Aside from that, you try telling a future employer "Hey I didn't go to MIT but yes I do know this" and we'll see how far you get.

    Further, MIT currently often makes course-material available by publishing it (you've heard of the MIT Press?)

    Sure you can find out what MIT teaches, shit look uo all the books you can on the site, but you won't find in which particular order to start, where to reference from while someone is teaching you, etc.

    so I can't see how MIT would lose students (and they probably still have many more applicants than they accept anyway --- students are not exactly in short supply if you're MIT).

    I can see how, while a student say still in high school may not be academically adept to going to MIT just yet, he can pick up what they're learning at MIT, and if he did learn it, and picked up his knowledge to another level, he may just option to go to a more prestigious university, why should he go to MIT when at this point he has a good enough knowledge to go to something like Harvard or Yale or some other catchy college, or even a foreign school... I can think of many reasons.

  • by deran9ed ( 300694 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2001 @05:19AM (#316179) Homepage
    Sounds like an interesting plan, and hopefully I'll be able to delve deep into some of their studies, as well as others who aren't as fortunate to attend such a kick as school. So here are my thoughts...

    Good ideas:
    • Those who cannot afford to go to MIT can still learn their courses.
    • Current students of MIT can get an example of what to study, intensifying their skills leading to higher learning.
    • Other universities can adapt to the higher levels (not saying other uni's are substandard) of teaching.
    Bad ideas:
    • Students may be able to cheat on exams.
    • Teachers may slack off on their intensity since students can just go online to learn.
    • Students can skip more classes referring to the web and how they already "learned" something.
    • Learning something with the assistance of a vocal teacher is not the same as reading it.
    • MIT can lose students since they could go to other universities and still learn at their level.
    • Upkeep may be hellish
    As with anything though there are pros and cons, but for the most part I think its a good idea for those who are willing to go the extra mile and learn something new, or for others to keep refreshed. Governments should give look into giving universities with plans like this free or highly reduced incentives, such as working with companies to provide free bandwidth to provide these services (which is what they are) for its citizens, after all in the U.S. your supposed to be entitled to a free education, so why not make it feasible for universities to follow MIT's move by providing added incentives.

    In the end the best case scenario would be, more people learn at a higher level, earn more, become more productive citizens, as opposed to being restricted because of things like race, levels of income, etc., thereby there'd be less welfare and dependancy on government to solve problems. While the worst would be.... (keep holding while I think of this)

    Ghost in the Shell [] hiding your data
  • The historical origin of the lecture was in pre-printing press universities. When all books were handwritten, if you wanted a copy of the text book, you'd write while the professor read it aloud. (Of course, next year a few rich students would buy the book from the previous class.) In some cases, the students would even band together and hire someone to read a text they needed to copy. :(

    Why this same format is still in use at American universities may indeed be a case of herd behavior. Note that Oxford U in England uses a different format -- you study the books on your own, do some homework, then see a "tutor" to review it and get the next assignment.

    Another issue is that, while the auditory channel is indeed low bandwidth, a large part of the population never does learn to assimilate facts from written materials. Oxford and MIT don't have to worry about that because they start with the best students. American diploma mills do need to take it into account -- since they seem to take it as their most important mission to give college degrees to the children of the rich whether they are educable or not. But the big problem may be that the public schools start out teaching by lecture in Kindergarten, and never require significant self-study no matter how advanced the students are. They ask them to do a little reading and homework, but everything is also covered aloud repeatedly, so anyone with a 3-digit IQ can blow off the reading assignments. My 7 year old grandson can read well enough to study on his own. (He's also such a behavior problem that home-schooling is probably the only way to handle him...) If the schools required third graders to do a little self-study or go to the remedial class, then increased the amount every year, I think most kids would learn to read better and ultimately learn more.
  • The US does have pure technical schools, which teach a narrow specialty and don't give a college degree. It has a few schools (MIT, Stanford, Prnceton, and maybe a dozen others) which are full of "bright people researching and learning", at least in the schools' best departments. But most US colleges mix the "researching and learning" with technical specialties. Worse, most cater to a large group of students that are neither interested in research nor in technical specialties, but just want to get a degree as a sort of "management union card."

    What I see as the best result of MIT's OpenCourseWare is that they will go beyond setting a standard of a real education, to posting examples of it for all to see. Maybe some diploma mills will use it to give themselves a real curriculum for those students that actually want it.
  • And additionally, it would put an extra 2-5 billion bucks into the economy per university, thus perhaps pulling us out of our economic slump.
  • 10 years ago (1000 years in internet time) I worked on a project for the University of Maryland called the AT&T teaching theater. It was a high tech classroom that could link up with other classrooms and allow the students to use their built in pc's to record the lecture, screen capture the white-board, and use collaborative software. The project also worked over the internet linking the classrooms with TCP for applications and using satellites for video.

    While the groupware aspects never really took off, i always thought the video streaming was a pretty useful aspect of the room. Students could screen cap on a camera pointed at the white board, the shots automatically getting saved in their portable university account.

    Since MIT seems to be genuinely interested in giving open access, maybe they should look into installing a few cameras in the class rooms. Scheduling automatic recordings based on class schedules and automatically posting the resulting recordings should be a snap, and net video standards have come a long way... using some MPEG4 implementations they could get many hours per gigabyte. It's probably an easier (and complimentary) task to record the video than organizing and publishing everyone's changing course materials.

    Plus with a video stream of the professor, a video stream of the whiteboard, and the course materials, well it'd be pretty close to being there. Helpful for students in the class, but key for actually teaching folks around the world.

    I think it's easy to be a cynical about almost anything you hear these days re: the internet. But this is much closer to the spirit with which the Internet was built, and it's easily a net positive for the world (no pun intended).

    Look at it this way, at least it isn't a year ago and MIT didn't just announce: "iMIT a pre-IPO startup spin-off of MIT to leverage offline content sources to profit from an advertising and subscription content model"

  • Because this video streaming costs money

    That's true, but in the time-scale of this project it shouldn't be a big problem. I just recently signed up for network service with cogent [] who is proving 100 megabits of internat based transit for $1000/mo. If you figure 256kbit mpeg4 streams (very watchable even now) that's 400 people watching video at the same time for only $12,000 a year. Dirt cheap. Cogent is part of a new breed of ISP that will be coming to market in the next few years that aggresively use DWDM to provide much more bandwidth per dollar than traditional service providers can. Bill Joy said in a recent interview that he thinks the biggest thing coming that people don't expect is an explosion of optical bandwidth. So I wouldn't be too worried about 1990's economics of video streaming.

    "You're not going to repeal the speed of light in the near future. You're going to have a latency issue, but you won't have any real bandwidth constraints. This has enormous implications: It helps things to become a service, and it makes it possible to cobble together machines to do certain problems and to replicate things real easily. It affects the whole economics of peer to peer. It's a strong wind at the back of this kind of distributed architecture." []

  • by w2gy ( 324957 ) on Wednesday April 04, 2001 @05:37AM (#316193)
    Students would be able to view previous examinations, learn exactly what questions professors ask, and learn only those questions. This will lead to focused studying instead of the broad studying necessary for a real education.

    You mean you were never given past papers at University? Wow. You must have some really unimaginiative and lazy professors and lecturers. I studied at UMIST Computation [] and all past papers for all courses including a large amount of the notes were freely available internally, both in paper and Word .doc format. No problems there because the papers were so different every time.

    Professors will have extra work to do in keeping the web page up-to-date.

    Ummm... what do you think they write their lecture notes and exam papers on? A typewriter? No, all this means is that Word and Powerpoint files just have to be linked to on a departmental web-site. If they want to convert to (bad) HTML, that's not really a problem in Office is it?

    Students would grow mad at professors who do not keep their site up-to-date, leading to lawsuits pertaining to fair education, etc.

    Only in America would somebody sue a professor for not keeping his course notes up to date. How brain dead are you people? It's your job to learn and to go and find information - if all you're going to do is read just the notes for the course the night before the exam, you can't really expect to be able to sue when you fail, can you?

    Students with computers at home (i.e., financially stable students) will have access at all times, while others (minorities, etc) will not, leading to an even bigger gap between upper- and middle-class.

    I think you'll find that the course notes will still be made available to the students on paper. If not, I'm sure there are some computer labs somewhere with printers.

    This project is not about under-mining MIT. It's not about replacing notes with HTML. It's not about giving professors extra workload. It is however, about a 15-year old who has above average intelligence getting free access to professional materials that match his ability from anywhere in the world. You're just angry because you put yourself in debt going to college and seem to think that this proposal will replace a degree. It won't, but I suspect you don't have one anyway, huh?

    I have to say, I think this is a great idea. I'm sure UMIST would do this at some point themselves, but I understand the main problem is with copyright retention and Universities stealing each other's materials. MIT is showing the rest of the world the way it should be done from now on.

  • At my university there are exam banks (hard copy and online) for the VERY PURPOSE of studying. There is nothing wrong with focused studying, especally in a computer or technology based course. Besides if there is enough old exams it becomes hard to focus because so many different old questions are present.

    Presently it costs a lot more to get into MIT then buy a computer, and if you spending enough to get into MIT--in a technology course--you really should have a computer. It may not be right that you have to be financially stable to have a computer and go to university, but this action has little effect on that issue

    I gather that this is not for the students at MIT as much, (they have real access to the information) but for the internet world as a whole. It still true have to own a computer or have access, but there is a limited to what MIT can do.

  • I though some people might be interestesd that MIT isn't the only university thinking of doing this. All the way in Australia, Sydney University [] is thinking along the same lines.

    Sydney University's Computer Science Department has been discussing putting a lot of its coursework on the net using WebCT [], in line with the tend of the other departments. This comes as a plan by the NSW Labor government's policy of developing online degrees for half the price of normal ones. However this has met a lot of opposition, including from Sydney University's own Labor Club.

    The reasons why a general online degree is a bad one are many, and have been discussed by other commenters on this subject. However, the Computer Science department's plan means students would still have to come into university to actually access a lot of the course, as it will be stored locally, which also means there will still be some FTF interaction. Whether this plan will be successful or beneficial, remains to be seen, but I think it will be an interesting debate nonetheless.

    I have had my say.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle